Medicine on the Radio

On February 18, 1922, B.J. Palmer took to the airwaves of radio station WOC:

“WOC is coming to you from the Up-E-Nuf tower atop the Palmer School of Chiropractic, the Chiropractic Fountain Head, in Davenport, Iowa, where the west begins and in the state where the tall corn grows!  Broadcasting by authority of the Federal Radio Commission…”

Palmer at the WHO mic

Palmer was the son of chiropractic’s founder, D.D. Palmer. A lover of technology and a savvy businessman, Palmer quickly saw the potential of this new technology to communicate messages to a large audience. He hoped that by spreading the message of chiropractic that he could “broaden listener’s intellectual power” and ultimately, “uplift the American standard of intelligence.” Although the station call letters were arbitrarily assigned, Palmer seized on a marketing opportunity when he saw one and proclaimed that WOC stood for “Wonders of Chiropractic.” It became the nation’s first commercial radio station west of the Mississippi.

Broadcasting from the Palmer School of Chiropractic, the Wonders of Chiropractic” drew nearly one million listeners daily. Programming extended beyond spines and adjustments to include sports, news, farm reports, stock updates, music, and church services. In fact, one of its early sportscasters was a young Ronald Reagan who recreated sports events for fans in the Quad Cities. Games weren’t called live as they are today. Instead, sportscasters would dramatize the game based on information picked up from the tele-type. So the job required an interest in sports as well as decent storytelling skills.

But chiropractic education remained a big part of the schedule and Palmer would take to the airwaves each evening to explain the benefits of chiropractic care. “The Mission of WOC is to establish Good Will for Chiropractic,” Palmer explained. “WOC is educating millions to a favorable mental receptivity to Chiropractic.” He proudly proclaimed that the name chiropractic was said on air an average of 28 times daily.

Thousands of people came to visit the WOC studios, anxious to see radio in action. Visitors saw the recording studios but also the music room where the Palmer School of Chiropractic Orchestra performed.

Palmer later went on to purchase another station in Des Moines. Its call letters were WHO, or “With Hands Only,” the standard method of chiropractic adjustment.  Palmer also wrote a book for radio broadcasters called Radio Salesmenship in 1942 that became a standard in broadcasting schools. He later added television stations to his broadcasting venture, truly embracing all avenues to spread the gospel of chiropractic.

Both stations are still around today, though chiropractic education has slipped from the schedule. Palmer’s story is a fascinating piece of early radio history.

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